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The Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill (HC 118) will amend the Armed Forces Act 2006 to enable provision to be made through secondary legislation for flexible working arrangements for regular Service personnel. The new measures will come into effect in April 2019.

The Bill completed it stages in the House of Lords on 25 October 2017 and had First Reading in the House of Commons on the same day. Second Reading was on 30 October 2017. The Bill was considered in Public Bill Committee on 14 November 2017 and reported without amendment. The Bill’s remaining stages (Report and Third Reading) will take place on 29 January 2018.

The case for flexible working, the Government argues, is principally about recruitment and retention and is not a money-saving exercise.

The Ministry of Defence is overhauling the ‘offer’ it makes to armed forces personnel, to make Service life more ‘family-friendly’, to increase the proportion of women serving, and to aid retention of personnel. Personnel can already access flexible arrangements such as compressed hours and working from home. But they cannot currently reduce their hours or reduce their liability for an extended overseas deployment.

The new arrangements will enable regular personnel to apply to reduce their hours or to limit the amount of time they are away from their home base for a set number of days per year. The MOD anticipates this will primarily assist those who have caring responsibilities, for example pre-school children or disabled, sick or elderly relatives. Approval will be subject to Service needs and will not be automatic.

The Bill was amended at Report Stage in the Lords to make any regulations made under the new provisions to be subject to the affirmative procedure. The Bill originally envisaged the use of the negative procedure for the regulations but the Government accepted an Opposition amendment. Members of the Lords also discussed at length the use of the term ‘part-time’ in the Bill with a number of former Chiefs of Defence Staff and other senior officers expressing their dislike of the term. In particular, they were concerned about the potentially detrimental use of the term a ‘part-time’ army could have on the reputation of the armed forces among allies and enemies, and the potential impact on deployability. An amendment to change the phrase in the Bill was defeated on Report.

All bill documents can be found on the bill page on Parliament’s website: Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill

The Ministry of Defence has publishing supporting documents on the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill webpage.

This briefing paper supersedes Library briefing paper The Armed Forces Bill CBP08018, published on 23 June 2017, which was written before the Bill began its stages in the Lords.

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